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Adult Children Of Alcoholics: Meeting Basic Needs

Adult Children of Alcoholics

Adult Children Of Alcoholics: Meeting Basic Needs

Adult Children Of Alcoholics: Meeting Basic Needs

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In 1978, Tony A. wrote The Laundry List: 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic. Since then, other equally powerful lists have been written, including: The Other Laundry List, The Flip Side of The Laundry List, and The Flip Side of The Other Laundry List. (You can read all of the lists here.) This information is invaluable BUT overwhelming. Today, we're focusing on list items that relate specifically to caring for our most basic needs.

Breaking Down The Laundry List

We can get better, and taking small slow steps are the key. Item numbers 6 and 7 from Tony A.'s original list explain how our ability to care for ourselves is affected:

  • "We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc."
  • "We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others."

What Is An Overdeveloped Sense Of Responsibility?

Being an adult child of an alcoholic means when we were kids, we had responsibilities beyond our years. I, for example, knew how to kill and clean a chicken before I entered high school. As a teenager, I spent my summers caring for other people's children. I had two after school jobs by the time I was 16.

Because this is all we know, we tend to marry people who are OK with our super sense of self-reliance and selflessness. Probably because we called it ambition. As parents, we're extremely over-protective because we've already had years of experience in high-stress parenting.

When I first found recovery, I was so enmeshed with my husband and son that I felt deep shame for spending 20 minutes alone in my bedroom to do my 12-step homework! Making myself slow-down to put on body lotion was a major accomplishment, and it took MONTHS for me to buy MY favorite foods at the grocery store. Little did I know, taking these small steps to care for myself was essential to my recovery.

It's More Than Self-Care; It's Self-Parenting

Per the ACA's Flip Side Of The Other Laundry List, when:

We accept and comfort the isolated and hurt inner child we have abandoned and disavowed, we thereby end the need to act out our fears of enmeshment and abandonment with other people.

To heal, we have to go back, find, and meet the needs of that inner child who got lost along the way. American psychologist Abraham Maslow explained that our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once our basic physiological needs are fulfilled, we'll naturally be motivated to fill the next level of needs.

Hierarchy-of-needs

Meeting My Basic Needs

When I first began recovery, I couldn't meet my basic physical needs. I had no money for groceries because I was paying the minimum amount due on every outstanding debt. Never getting ahead, my debt grew. I stood in more than one food pantry line before I was willing to try something different. Finally, I took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University.

Dave's teachings coincide with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I learned to get out of debt, I had to protect my four walls, which included basic necessities, like:

  • Food
  • Shelter (including utilities)
  • Basic clothing and
  • Transportation

Thanks to recovery, now instead of feeling guilty for buying the healthy foods I like at the grocery store, I buy groceries first before paying any bills. I select the best in fruits, veggies, and meats. I savor the time spent making healthy meals for myself. Instead of being thought of as selfish as I feared, my family is sharing my delicious meals with me. It's a slow, sweet healing.

Feeling Safe Somewhere

Once my condition stabilized, I was then strong enough to tackle my safety needs. I made a safe space in my home. My husband and son are both energetic, enthusiastic, loud people. Watching sports with them triggers me, as I'm afraid of angry people. To me, loud means angry. This trait is item #3 on Tony A.'s list:

  • "We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism."

About 18 months ago, I set up my bedroom as a "storm shelter".  It's equipped with a bathroom, shower, reading materials, candles, and my pets food and water bowls. If I need to, I can hunker down in my room and ride out any emotionally angry storm, whether real or imagined by me. Hanging outside my room is a sign with this Melody Beattie quote,

"If you want to act crazy, that's your business, but you can't do it in front of me. Either you leave, or I will walk away."

At first, I went there often, sometimes in an angry huff. Sometimes the door would be locked all night. Gradually, I felt safer and more free. Now I often sit in bed reading with the door open. I almost never hide, and usually, my family stops by to visit.

What's The Next Self-Care Step?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is an excellent unbiased tool from a renowned psychologist. Every person deserves to have these basic needs met. Yet, we are fantastic resisters. Here are a few questions to hold ourselves accountable:

  • When is the last time you've been to the Doctor? Or Dentist? Or Eye Doctor?
  • Think of your most favorite health foods. Are you using them to fuel your body? Do you make the time to prepare and eat when you are hungry?
  • Are you getting enough sleep or do you work in the wee hours of the night promising you'll catch up on the lost sleep tomorrow?
  • Do you still attend stressful family meals or dinners with angry friends because you don't want to rock the boat?
  • Are you actively participating in one-way relationships?
  • Are you willing to find a sponsor or counselor to help you work through these issues?

More important than which item we tackle first is when we get started. An old Chinese problem says,

'The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today."


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Pam is the author of two books: Co-dependent In The Kitchen, and Find Your True Colors In 12 Steps. She's also a contributing editor for Reach Out Recovery. She's a recovery advocate who likes long walks on the beach and chocolate.

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